15-Feb-2006
Alex Castaldo on Learning Programming:

  1. They say it is impossible to learn Calculus if you get started after the age of 35, and the same is probably true of programming.
  2. Reading a book about programming is a little like reading about sex. It is more of a do it type activity. You can certainly have some reference materials handy, but ultimately the way to learn is "practice, practice, practice".
  3. You do not read "about programming", you have to study a specific programming language. They tell me R, Python (or possibly Ruby) are the things people like to get started nowadays (used to be VB and Java). But you must choose ONE and stick with it until you achieve some competency. Then you can study a second one. But it is completely counterproductive for a beginner to dabble in more than one language at the same time.
  4. Though many people have managed to learn programming on their own, the discipline of taking a class (the scheduled assignments, the realistic-size projects given to you, the ability to ask questions when you are completely stuck, seeing whether other students' experiences are similar to yours, etc.) would be very helpful in most cases I would think.

Julian adds:

When I was in class, there were a few mature students; they did ok. We learnt a specific language first (Ada), I don't think it matters what language you learn, as long as you learn the concepts first, once you know them, only then apply them to the semantics of the specific language you're using.

Once you learn what a chair is, you don't need to learn what it is again, you just need to learn a new word to describe it when talking to a Chinaman. Much like a lot of talk on this list, we take concepts from one area and try and see how they go in another. Once a concept is learnt, through practice and experience, simply switch games, keep the concepts and update the semantics.